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Kennedy Center to Celebrate MLK, JR.’s Legacy with Headliners

Kennedy Center to Celebrate MLK, JR.’s Legacy with Headliners

Nolan Williams Hosts MLK, Jr. Celebration in Song
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
January 10, 2023

(Photo/The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts)

 In a musical tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Kennedy Center will host a celebration of King’s legacy. As an integral part of the Center’s Millennium Stage performance series, the annual program, co-hosted by Georgetown University will feature a musical performance by Jordin SparksNolan Williams, Jr. and Cécile McLorin Salvant accompanied by pianist Sullivan Joseph Fortner, Jr. and backed by the Let Freedom Ring Choir led by Music Producer, Nolan Williams, Jr.

Held in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, a highlight of the program will be William’s, Jr.’s “Rise Up and Fight”, a civic anthem composed to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Freedom Summer.

Nolan Williams Jr.

Nolan Williams, Jr. is best described as a creative force. An award-winning producer, music director, composer/lyricist, playwright, filmmaker, musicologist, and cultural curator, the multi-hyphenate Williams, Jr. has dedicated his professional career to creating works that illuminate issues of civil rights, social justice, and cultural curiosities. His body of work includes choral/orchestral works premiered by major American orchestras; music for television; the bestselling African American Heritage Hymnal (over 500,000 copies sold worldwide); songwriting credits on two Grammy®-nominated projects; arts and educational festivals produced in partnership with the Kennedy Center and Philadelphia’s Mann Center; cultural programming developed with the Smithsonian, U.S. State Department, and multiple embassies; video/documentary projects, including the star-studded viral video “I Have A Right To Vote” (over two million global media hits); “Becoming Douglass Commonwealth” (winner of ten media prizes); and a slate of theatrical productions, including his critically-hailed new musical Grace – winner of eleven 2022 Broadway World Washington, D.C. awards, including Best Musical and Best New Musical).

(Read my review of Grace here –

Local DC resident, Williams, Jr. is CEO of NEWorks Productions, a leading producer of impact-arts programming and entertainment since 2003. He has given musical leadership to this Let Freedom Ring concert since the same year.

In 2019, Williams, Jr. was named the Kennedy Center’s inaugural Social Practice Resident.

Jordin Sparks

Jordin Sparks is a Grammy® nominated, multi-platinum singer-songwriter and actress who, in one of the show’s highest-rated seasons, garnered worldwide attention as the winner of season six of American Idol. Cumulatively, Sparks’ popular singles have sold over 10 million digital tracks in the U.S. Sparks is also a gifted songwriter. Arianna Grande’s smash single, “The Way,” was co-written by Sparks and earned her a B.M.I. songwriting award. She has toured with superstars Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, The Jonas Brothers, New Kids on The Block, and the Backstreet Boys and headlined her own tour.

Sparks has garnered two B.E.T. Awards, one American Music Award, and one People’s Choice Award, and has been nominated for two MTV Awards and a Grammy®. She made her Broadway debut starring in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash, In the Heights, and made her film debut playing the lead role in the SONY Pictures film Sparkle, opposite the legendary Whitney Houston. Sparks‘s positive body image, message, and success have impacted people worldwide. She considers philanthropy an integral part of her life and was recently profiled by CNN Heroes and Dress for Success for her charity work.

She has since returned to the Broadway stage as the lead in the TONY® award-winning Waitress with music by Sara Bareilles, to critical acclaim, and Executive-Produced and starred in Hallmark’s, A Christmas Treasure. She is a sought-after successful social media influencer due to her impressive social media following. She has also successfully transitioned into network broadcasting hosting/co-hosting on some of television’s most iconic programs, such as NBC.‘s TODAY Show, ABC.’s Good Morning America, ABC.’s The View, CBS.’ The Talk, PBS’ Great Performances (with John Lithgow), amongst others. She currently holds the position of Governor of the LA Chapter of the Recording Academy (GRAMMYS).

Sparks released two previous albums in 2020. “Sounds Like Me,” and her first-ever Christmas album, “Cider & Hennessy.” She received a Dove, Billboard, and Grammy nomination in 2023 for her #1 single with For King & Country, “Love Me Like I Am”, and released the single, “Call My Name” along with her latest single, “Candy Cane Lane”.

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Cécile McLorin Salvant is a composer, singer, and visual artist. The late Jessye Norman described Salvant as “a unique voice supported by an intelligence and full-fledged musicality, which light up every note she sings.” Salvant has developed a passion for storytelling and finding the connections between vaudeville, blues, folk traditions from around the world, theater, jazz, and baroque music. Salvant is an eclectic curator, unearthing rarely recorded, forgotten songs with strong narratives, interesting power dynamics, unexpected twists, and humor. Salvant won the Thelonious Monk competition in 2010. She has received Grammy Awards® for Best Jazz Vocal Album for three consecutive albums, “The Window”, “Dreams and Daggers”, and “For One To Love”. In 2020, Salvant received the MacArthur Fellowship and the Doris Duke Artist Award. Salvant released her debut Nonesuch Records release “Ghost Song” in 2022; the album went on to receive two Grammy® nominations. Mélusine, an album mostly sung in French, along with Occitan, English, and Haitian Kreyòl, was released on March 24, 2023, and has now been nominated for two Grammy® Awards.

Anna Deavere Smith

The program will feature musical performances by Jordin Sparks, music producer and commissioned composer Nolan Williams, Jr., Cécile McLorin Salvant, pianist Sullivan Joseph Fortner, Jr.Anna Deavere Smith, Rodrick Dixon, Rayshun LaMarr, Benjamin H. Moore, and John Riddle.

In addition, Georgetown University will present the annual John Thompson Jr. Legacy of a Dream Award to Reginald L. Douglas, Artistic Director of Mosaic Theater Company of DC. The aim of Reginald L. Douglas and Mosaic Theater is to use theater to build community and foster change. The award is given by Georgetown University to a local individual who exemplifies the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mosaic Theater Company produces bold, culturally diverse theater that illuminates critical issues, elevates fresh voices, and sparks connections among communities throughout the D.C. region and beyond.

Mosaic’s innovative education and engagement programming provides opportunities for community members of all ages and backgrounds to engage more deeply with the themes of Mosaic’s plays. As a national leader in new play development work, Mosaic serves as an incubator for stories often untold on U.S. stages. Mosaic is committed to investing in artists and advancing equity practices, which has garnered national attention and served as a model for other theaters.

In its first eight seasons, Mosaic has produced over 10 world premiere plays (with more underway), engaged nearly 4,500 students across all eight wards of D.C. through educational initiatives, programmed over 700 panel discussions and conversations, and commissioned or developed over 30 plays and musicals.

Mosaic has received the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company, and in 2022, Mosaic received 11 Helen Hayes nominations, including three for “Outstanding New Play”.

As part of Georgetown University’s MLK Initiative: Let Freedom Ring! the event builds on the success of the first joint program in January 2003, which featured the legendary Roberta Flack and attracted more than 5,000 patrons. The second, held in August of 2003, commemorated the 40th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and featured actor and civil rights leader, Ossie Davis. Past concerts have featured Jessye Norman in 2004; Aaron Neville in 2005; Yolanda Adams in 2006 and 2016; Brian McKnight in 2007; Denyce Graves in 2008; Aretha Franklin in 2009; India. Arie in 2010; Patti LaBelle in 2011; Bobby McFerrin in 2012; Smokey Robinson in 2013; Dionne Warwick in 2014; Natalie Cole in 2015; Gladys Knight in 2017; Vanessa Williams in 2018; and Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell in 2019, Chaka Khan in 2020 and Leslie Odom Jr. in 2023.

The event will occur on Monday, January 15, 2024, at 6:00 p.m. in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566.

The ticket giveaway begins January 15 at 4:30 p.m. at the Hall of Nations and will be limited to two tickets per person. This performance will be captioned. If you or a member of your party requires accessible seating or seats in the captioned section, please notify staff when you reach the front of the ticket distribution line. This performance will also be live-streamed on the Kennedy Center’s Facebook and YouTube pages and its website at

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